Sunday 12 July 2015

Every Picture Tells a Story ...

The glamorous side of research:

I've been spending some time researching for a magazine article; doing a bit of groundwork for my next novel. I can't say what it's about, because I'm not exactly sure yet myself. I thought going out to some locations might help with the 'muse'.  At the very least, I thought I would use the opportunity to take some photos, to illustrate the planned article and as aides memoire when the time for serious novel writing begins.

I'm pretty pleased with the way the pictures have turned out. Each one shows a scene of serenity, of isolation, and calm natural beauty. And they lie.

Such a pretty picture of a quiet churchyard, isn't it? But as for telling a story - well, no, it doesn't. Because it doesn't communicate the fact that at the exact moment I took the shot, the heavens opened and the rain poured down. It also doesn't show that I managed to arrive while a happy bride was posing for her own photos. And it certainly doesn't convey my sheer idiocy in thinking that since she was outside having her pictures taken, the wedding must be over and I could nip inside to pick up some information leaflets. I don't do 'selfies', so my pictures can't show the horror on my face as I lunged inside, only to see about 75 colourfully-attired people turn round in delighted expectation. Their feather-strewn hats wobbled as they shook their heads in disdain. Yes, the bride was about to go in, and the wedding was about to take place.

After beating a hasty and soggy retreat, we went back to the car and ate our soggier sandwiches as the sun came out and shone down. Again, I don't do selfies so there's no evidence of my sitting in the passenger seat, red in the face and resembling a ripening tomato under greenhouse glass.

And so to a place associated with the story I'm researching, described as being 'near' to a village. Finding the village was arduous enough, with one obliging local telling us not to carry on down one particular road as the roads down there all 'get a bit skinny'. Spotting a sign which described a place that might or might not be the spot we were looking for, I went to the nearest property which was a riding stables. I asked a couple of the grooms if they knew where the place was, but neither of them did. In this short space of time my driver (aka my long-suffering husband) had barricaded himself in the car and refused to open the door to let me back in because a plague of flies had attached themselves to the vehicle. I eventually managed to get in and we drove off at speed, tyres complaining about the shingle track, and the flies clinging on with an attitude that is described in these parts as "sheer badness".

Fewer than 100 yards down the road, we found the spot. And by the looks of it we were the first human visitors in about fifty years.

It's a vision of solitude and tranquillity, no? But still photos don't tell tales like videos do and if there were a soundtrack added to this, all you would hear is the sound of my driver telling me, in bunches of four letter words, every time he found a nettle. Or should I say, when the nettles found him.  It was time to move on.

High up in the hills, we stopped to ask some walkers about our next destination. The gentleman with the hiking poles, rucksack and zip-off walking shorts looked me up and down, sniffed in such a way as to make me wonder what else we had managed to tread in amongst the bracken and the nettles, and told me, "You'll never make it in those shoes."

So we went back the next day, in the correct garb. Halfway up the mountain (I say mountain, but I used to live in East Anglia, so, you know, anything above sea level ...) we met a man who said, "No point, it's all shrouded in mist and cloud." And he was right. Except that of course, on the way back down, the sun came out and the rocks dried up and it flattened out a bit and so I really wasn't expecting to slip and fall ... I'm not proud of the moment I sat on my backside on that hill and cried like a four-year-old. And here's the photo that categorically does not tell that story, but was, nevertheless, taken about thirty seconds later:

So yes, every picture tells a story. Just not necessarily the truth. That's where we writers come in. Isn't it?


  1. This made me laugh. Not because of the ignominous fall though I'd probably have laughed in real life had I witnessed it, but because your adventures are so close to my own. I managed to bumble into a funeral service of the late dean in Ripon Cathedral which is probably worse than bumbling into a wedding. And about that shoes comment ... well, my reply usuall is, "I'm German, I'd climb the Mount Everest wearing sandals." :-)

    Found your blog via English Historical Fiction authors, btw. I'm a regular reader albeit very scarce commenter. But the time you write about caught my interest since one of my NiPs is set in the time of King Æthelstan and successors and Heinrich the Fowler / Otto the Great - a family saga spanning Britain and Germany, and likely the Scandinavian countries and the Slavic places east of the Elbe as well; the monster is growing fast. :-)

    1. Hi Gabriele,
      I'm glad you found me here. Yes, I think your incident at Ripon beats my wedding escapade! Your book sounds wonderful - I'd love to hear how it progresses. If you are interested, my next post here will be an excerpt from To Be a Queen :)

  2. Well, I've been fiddling with the idea since 2013, did some research and started writing during Nano 2014 which I actually won for the first time. (I've done it before for my Roman NiPs but the result was something between 12 and 25K). But since I'm very much a pantster except for the history framework and some vague idea about the - partly fictional - characters, the story took the bite and galloped off. It's now looking like a trilogy, has a cast that can compete with Game of Thrones and will probably keep me busy for some time to come. Esp. since it has to share my free time with two Roman novels I'm also working on.

    I found the first plotbunny in a local castle called Sichelstein, with a setting during the time of Heinrich the Fowler and Otto the Great. The semi-fictive Sichelstein family soon grew and eventually the youngest son wanted to go to England (Otto being married to Eadgyth, one of Æthelstan's half sisters, made the connection). The oldest son and heir got himself exiled and right now is a prisoner of the Slavic tribe of the Redarii. And the sister is busy defending the family castle against a neighbour, while the middle son tries to sort out the mess his older brother got the family into - he's in the entourage of King Heinrich and facing battle against the Magyars (Riade, 933). The Battle of Brunanburh will also play a role, and the sister is going to marry a Danish jarl. Then there's the missing uncle ..... It's all a lot of fun, but a pretty wild web so far; in need of a) finishing a draft, and b) making a coherent picture of the threads.

    1. I like the sound of all this - good luck and let me know when it's finished, I'd love to read it :)